Fixing Invisible Navigation Systems to Improve Your Search Ranking

By Peter Kent

Navigation systems that were invisible to search engines were once a very SEO common problem, but much less so these days because searchbots are so much smarter. Still, some search engines are smarter than others, and some navigation systems may cause problems with some systems, but you can deal with a navigation-system problem very easily.

You may want to do a little research on the difference between browser-side and server-side processes; this issue is related. A web page is compiled in two places — on the server and in the browser. If the navigation system is created “on the fly” in the browser, it may not be visible to a search engine.

Examples of such systems include those created by using

  • JavaScripts

  • Adobe Flash animation format

  • Microsoft’s Silverlight animation format

  • Java applets

So do you need to worry about these issues? You don’t, unless you know for sure you are having problems; if, for instance, the search engines aren’t indexing your website, despite the fact that you have more than just one or two links pointing to the site, one question you should ask yourself is how the navigation system was created.

If it’s just basic HTML links, you don’t have a problem; move on. If the navigation system is built into the JavaScript, then there might be a problem. That’s unlikely to be a problem with Google, as it reads JavaScript quite well; Bing, however, still warns webmasters that it may not be able to read JavaScript (and that affects Yahoo!, of course, as Bing feeds results to Yahoo!).

If the site is being indexed by Google but not Bing, and your navigation structure is within JavaScript, maybe that’s the problem.

As for Adobe Flash, Google generally reads Flash pretty well; again, Bing states it may not be able to find links in Flash. Both search engines still state they have problems with this format.

What about Java applets? It’ a fair assumption that if your navigation is built into an applet, the search engines cant see the links. But using Java applets for navigation is pretty rare.

Some other more obscure format? Assume that search engines can’t read it.

But let’s say you think you have this problem: One or more search engines are having problems finding their way through your site, because you’re using some format other than HTML for your navigation system. Or perhaps you just want to be conservative, and make sure you don’t have problems. What do you do?

The fix is easy: Just, to quote Bing, “implement a down-level experience which includes the same content elements and links as your rich version does. This will allow anyone ([including] Bingbot) without rich media enabled to see and interact with your website.”

Here’s a translation of the geekspeak. By “down-level,” they mean simply use add links in a simpler format (that is, HTML). Add a secondary form of navigation that duplicates the top navigation.

You can duplicate the navigation structure by using simple text links at the bottom of the page, for instance, or perhaps in a navigation bar on the side of the page. If you have long pages or extremely cluttered HTML, you may want to place small text links near the top of the page, perhaps in the leftmost column, to make sure that search engines get to them.